Effect of nursery storage and site preparation techniques on field performance of high-elevation Pinus contorta seedlings

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After five years of growth at high-elevations (∼3000 m) in Utah, container lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl. var. latifolia Engelm.) seedlings survived well (80-95%) and grew to similar heights regardless of nursery storage method and site preparation technique. Seedlings received one of three storage treatments: (1) spring-sown in the nursery, overwintered in cooler storage and outplanted in July; (2) spring-sown, overwintered in freezer storage, and outplanted in July; or (3) winter-sown, no storage, and hot-planted in late August. We outplanted seedlings at two locations that were clearcut and had received two treatments of surface organic matter (coarse wood, logging slash, and forest floor) removal: surface organic matter (OM) piled with a bulldozer and burned or surface OM remaining in situ. Compared to adjacent uncut stands, both site preparation treatments increased total soil bulk density, but retaining surface OM in situ maintained soil OM, carbon, and nitrogen levels. After one growing season, seedlings planted where surface OM had been bulldozed were taller and had more biomass, although survival was similar (≥96%) across site preparation treatments. The height growth advantage disappeared after five growing seasons and although overall survival was good, survival was highest where site preparation involved removal of surface OM and freezer-stored seedlings were planted. Total non-structural carbohydrates tended to be higher in roots than in shoots and were also higher in hot-planted seedlings than in stored seedlings. Our results indicate that nursery and forest managers have several options for successful nursery production and outplanting of container lodgepole pine seedlings in the central Rocky Mountains. Using hot-planted seedlings allows for a faster turnaround time (from seed to plantable seedling) and maintaining surface OM may be a cost-effective alternative to dozer piling and burning.

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Forest Ecology and Management